Matt Ridley’s work isn’t exactly a “new release”. This Rational optimist was first released in the UK in 2010. The work was recently discovered by American libertarian such as John Stossel and Reason Magazine’s Ron Bailey. Popular attention primarily focuses on Ridley’s assertion that “ideas have sex”, an assertion that complex technological and cultural progress is largely the result of the voluntary interaction of individuals, which results in the integration
While “ideas have sex” provides a great sound bite for perpetual adolescence Americans, it is in some ways a rehash of to the thesis to James Burke’s 1970s documentary series, Connections. Specifically, that most complex inventions and innovations are not the result of a lone genius, but rather the result of synthesizing previously unrelated pieces of technology. Burke’s classical demonstration was the space program, which integrate previously unrelated technologies such as radio communications, aeronautics, and thermodynamics.
Matt Ridley’s work is noteworthy for his efforts to quantitatively prove Burke’s (and others) thesis, by integrating analysis from evolutionary biology, anthropology, sociology, and economics. True to his libertarian works, Ridley incorporates elements of Austrian school economics, such as the Hayekian concept of dispersed knowledge. The skepticism associate with Austrian economics has at times inhibited analyses of social and environmental issues such as the alleged challenge of peak oil, in which theorists fear that petroleum will only be available in diminishing amounts. Ridley blazes a trail by providing an additional avenue for logical
Bottom line; take the time to read this book. The author’s ability to integrate Austrian economics with anthropology will, at the very least, expand the reader’s understanding of how human beings relate to one another.